Hollywood taking away from local film community

MONTREAL — Film distributors in Canada have reacted angrily to a controversial decision by Canuck regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission to allow new direct-to-home pay-per-view services to buy all their movies directly from the Hollywood studios.

When it originally gave the green-light to the satellite pay-per-view outlets Allarcom Pay Television, Viewer’s Choice Canada and French-lingo service Canal Indigo two years ago, the CRTC ruled that the services would have to acquire rights to non-proprietary foreign films from Canadian distributors rather than from the studios themselves.

Non-proprietary films are pics for which the studios do not have all world rights or for which they have not paid more than half the costs.

The studios objected strenuously to the original CRTC decision, and the Toronto-based Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Assn., which reps the majors in the Great White North, unsuccessfully tried to challenge the ruling in the federal court system. When the legal route didn’t work, the studios then cut off the supply of blockbusters to the new satellite pay-per-view services in Canada. The three outlets then petitioned the CRTC to modify its ruling and remove the condition regarding non-proprietary films.

“We couldn’t get the big American films,” said a spokesman for Montreal-based Astral Communications, which owns a controlling interest in both Viewer’s Choice and Canal Indigo. “This was giving the U.S. satellite services operating in the gray market in Canada an unfair advantage.”

Richard Paradis, president of the film distributors association, said the CRTC ruling is a major setback for the homegrown film industry. “The message it sends out to foreign companies is that it’s open-shooting season in Canada when it comes to the cultural sector,” said Paradis. “And it comes right in the middle of when we’re reviewing our film policy. Pay-per-view on direct-to-home is small right now, but it’s a growth area.”

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